* Foiling Oedipus

Last night I had to get some emergency groceries - you know, the stuff you can' t live without before your next major grocery expedition. Rio came along, and he was tired. He was holding up pretty well, for a tired Rio, until we got to the check-out line. As usual, he jumped in to help load the items from the cart to the conveyor belt, a job he relishes. Right then, the man ahead of us decided to get friendly with the cute, spunky little boy in line behind him. Rio, rockstar that he is, obliged with an impressive stunt: he flung the trio of paper towels up into the air, which crash landed on the display above the tabloid rack. The friendly man suddenly had pressing business with the cashier, and instead of applause Rio received only a stony glare from me.

I held my tongue, but I didn't let him help me anymore, and that was enough to crumple him. Then he insisted on pressing the green "Yes" button on the card machine, but again I turned down his help. I think I should have allowed him at least that much, because he then collapsed on the floor in a pile of tears. I ignored him while I completed my transaction. When I was done, I rolled the cart past him (now lying flat on his back, wailing) and said, "See you later, Rio." That's the only sure way to get Rio to follow me, and it works every time.

In the parking lot I gave him one more chance to change his attitude. I told him that if he could calm down before we got home, I would still go riding with him. He got in the car while I loaded groceries in the trunk, and when I got in I found that he had thrown all of my stuff onto the floor of the car. Bad news: no bike ride tonight, kiddo.

Somehow, we made it through the rest of the night without any more meltdowns. I put him to bed fairly early - 6:30 (I usually shoot for 7, but these days earlier is better). We read a chapter from Prince Caspian, said our prayers and life was good. This morning he woke up cheerful and climbed into bed with me before my alarm went off. He and I have always been keen on morning snuggle time, but my husband has raised some objections. Namely, that Rio's getting too old to be climbing into bed next to his naked mother. And as much as I'd like to object, for the sake of being comfortable with our bodies and learning that nudity is natural, I have to admit he's probably right.

Here's the thing. For a 6 year old boy, Rio's pretty in touch with his sexuality. I hope nobody takes that the wrong way. There's nothing perverse or deviant about a little boy's sexuality. But he definitely loves women, and women's bodies. Yep. For instance, he's always trying to feel up Anlon's ample bosoms (and one can hardly blame him, since they are usually on display and rather tempting even to grown men;). And just this weekend he charged into the bathroom as I was getting into the shower and declared "My mom's the cutest mom and she's cutest when she's NAKED!" Sure, that's great for my ego, but I cringe to think that he might be sharing this observation with his Kindergarten class. Self-censorship is most certainly not one of Rio's strengths.

So, even though I'm loathe to teach him that we should be ashamed of our nakedness, I think I need to find some balance here. First of all, he needs to learn to respect people's privacy while they're in the bathroom, so bursting in is unacceptable. Second of all, it's fine for him to be comfortable with his own body, but perhaps he shouldn't be quite so comfortable with my nudity. I'll have to be more vigilant about that. I guess my worst fear is that someday Rio will be in therapy for an Oedipal fixation on small-breasted redheads.

One thing I do know, whenever Rio reaches puberty, the girls better watch out. The kid's already a lady killer.

* Ups and Downs

Today was kind of a hard day for Rio. Blame it on Monday, especially after a prolonged weekend.

This morning we had a pretty rough start, and unfortunately that set the tone for the rest of the day. Usually, mornings are Rio's best times. If school started at 7 AM and let out at 1:00 Rio would be a lot better off, but you can't have it all. Anyway, it unraveled when I turned down his request for honey on his cereal. That's a weekend treat, and I know better than to send him to school with the even the slightest sugar buzz. But explaining that to Rio is difficult. Thereafter, he was defiant and resistant to my every request, finally plopping down in the middle of the kitchen, arms crossed, announcing that he most definitely was NOT going to school.

So I leveled with him. "Look, Rio, I don't want to go to work, either. No, sir, not one bit. I'd much rather stay home today. But I can't. I have to go to work and there's no getting out of it. I guess I could go to work and complain about how boring my job is and how it stinks sitting there at my desk all day, and how I'd rather be anywhere than work. OR I could make the best of it, and enjoy the fact that I don't have to work outside when it's cold, and I that I have a cool boss, and that my job isn't stressful. I'm thankful for that, and I'm going to remember that while I finish getting ready for work. I want you to do the same."

I left him sitting there and went into the bathroom to complete my preparations. When I emerged he was in his room looking for something for show and tell. Crisis narrowly averted.

This afternoon Rio had his second session with his counselor, a behavioral therapist. She's still getting to know him, and she's focusing on his anger management and self-calming skills for now. We played a board game called "Anger Solutions." I can't say I was terribly impressed with that bit of PC fluff, but I was a good sport nonetheless. So far Rio has been very receptive with his counselor. He's always happy there, and obviously feels comfortable and relaxed. The only trouble is that there's a lot I need to fill her in on, and I can't do it when Rio is there. I want to catch her up on my recent conferences with his teacher and principal, and talk to her about this book the school counselor gave me. It's called The Explosive Child and I have to admit it describes Rio's behavior with remarkable accuracy. She's hard to reach by phone, but I think I'll write to her. That will also help me sort out my thoughts.

I'm hoping to get her to back me up in the event that Rio's principal decides to ship him back to our district school. Of course, I'm really hoping that that won't be necessary because Rio will be making improvements in leaps and bounds. But I still have this cynical (I know) suspicion that she's stuck in her own agenda, and if I don't agree to have him assessed and promptly medicated, she will wash her hands of him. However, if I can get his counselor to push my agenda - Operation Establish Stability - then we can at least get her to let Rio finish out the school year where he's at. My argument is that this last year has been especially tumultuous for Rio, even more than it might be for any other kid, and he's never really had much stability since he's been born. We've been fairly nomadic, and I've only just this summer built my nest, a nest I can keep and call my own. For good. For Rio. Please, just let him stay at your school just a little longer? He doesn't need to start all over again somewhere new.

Meanwhile, I'm buying him all the time I can. I will play the good cooperative parent, to a point. Then, I will be polite and tactful, but firm. The rest is up to Divine Providence.

* Turkey and Bicycles

It’s been an eventful holiday weekend. We had a white Thanksgiving, with 6 glorious inches of snow to be thankful for! The kids and I expressed our gratitude by going sledding that morning. Sledding is probably my favorite winter fun. Yippeeee!

The feast went off without a hitch, thanks largely to my husband’s culinary skills. Me, I have no business with a dead turkey. I’ve never prepared a turkey dinner in all of my 31 years, but hey, I’m here to help! I can mash some mean potatoes, watch out. We had some pheasant too, thanks to Tyle’s skills with a shotgun. That bird was especially for me, since I had recently explained to Tyle my preference for wild meat as opposed to meat from the grocery store. He seemed to think it would be a dreadful thing for me to uphold that argument and indulge in some bird flesh. But no, it was my pleasure:)

In fact, this was the first year that I’ve eaten turkey since I gave up meat 10 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of becoming an Atkins carnivore or anything, but I am becoming a lot less rigid in my beliefs. And besides, my testosterone-soaked household is fueled by protein. They need their man food, especially the young man-cubs. It has also occurred to me that at least some of Rio’s behavior issues may be related to nutrition, and it makes sense to reconsider his vegetarian diet. In spite of all my vigilance, I had to come to terms with the fact that peanut butter, tofu, and cottage cheese just aren’t enough for a bruiser of a kid with a high energy level and constant appetite. In addition, he exhibits some symptoms of blood-sugar issues – he tires early and suddenly, and when he’s hungry he’s not just cranky or irritable. Oh no, he is completely unable to cope with even the slightest inconvenience. He totally melts down at the first sign of frustration, moreso even than his normal meltdowns. These ones are Rio at his worst, and there’s just nothing you can do with the kid. I usually just put him in bed and shut the door, then wait for the screaming and kicking to subside and eventually he cries himself to sleep.

So, it seems logical that perhaps a high-carb vegetarian diet may not be right for Rio the Pirate King. I put him on vitamins first, a multi plus a megadose of B-12. And now I’m introducing meat into his diet, which is not as simple as it may seem. He’s resistant to unfamiliar foods and tastes. He rejected my turkey sandwiches, and snubbed his nose at our Thanksgiving birds, too. But later he gave some leftovers a try and now he’s sold on the stuff. I’m trying to get him hooked on poultry, according to my hierarchy of lesser evils. Of course if he had his druthers he’d happily engorge himself on hotdogs and chicken nuggets, *shudder*.

Rio and I did have one great triumph this weekend: Rio learned to ride a bike. Look Ma, no training wheels! And it’s even more thrilling if you know what a painful struggle it was for Rio to get past the initial difficulties. But it was his idea from the start, he decided he was ready and that gave me hope, and was probably the only thing that kept him from abandoning the idea completely. He very nearly did quit several times, when I wasn’t sure any amount of coaxing, calming, and reasoning was going to change his mind.

The first hour or so was spent doing just that – coaxing, calming, reasoning, while I persuaded Rio to try coasting. I pointed him down a gentle slope and showed him how to roll along, no pedals, feet out to the side ready to catch you when you fall. And he did, just little falls, but they triggered angry, tearful tantrums. I witnessed his frustration escalate, until every time he fell he would drop his bike and throw himself on the ground. Even the slightest wobble quickly crumpled into a heap of boy and bike.

In Rio’s world, every fall was a failure. Every fall confirmed his fear that he would not be able to do it, and that falling hurts and all he can do is fall. Finally I managed to console him, saying, “Of course you will fall. You’re supposed to fall. That’s how you learn not to fall. You can’t learn to ride until you learn to fall, silly!” It became a kind of joke. If he fell, I would smile and encourage him, “That’s right, like that! That was a good one. Nice landing this time, right?” When I got him laughing, I knew I had him.

One of Rio’s first hang-ups was that he insisted on trying to pedal before he had mastered coasting. And every time his feet went for the pedals, he would invariably lose his balance (if he ever had it) and fall. He seemed to think that if he wasn’t pedaling, he wasn’t doing it right and therefore learning to coast was not what he wanted to do. I explained to him 63 different ways that learning to balance comes before learning to pedal, and that if you can’t do the first thing (coasting), you can’t do the next thing (pedal). That’s why he was falling so much, because he was trying to do the 2nd thing without the first thing. Finally, it sunk in and he left the pedals alone. After a while, Rio was coasting. And once he was coasting, the rest was easy. Now, it’s like he’s been riding all his life. He wants to ride his bike all the time, and I’m eager to encourage him. So I’ve taken to strapping on my new freecycle rollerblades and doing laps around the parking lot across the street. It’s good fun and great exercise. Now my goal is to do it with him for a half hour everyday when we get home. It will be good for both of us.

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You might as well get used to long posts, I tend to be long-winded. I’ll do my best to post more frequently so I don’t feel as compelled to write a novella a week. I’ve realized that I still have some gaps to fill in, like all of my stepkids and that whole dynamic. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that my new husband has 7 children. More on that later, so stay tuned:)

* Introductions

Allow me to give you some background on Hercules and Alemena(that's me!), to set the stage:

Hercules has never seen his real father, a Costa Rican native that I met while studying abroad. Ironically, Hercules seems to have inherited much of his father's personality. When I returned to the States from Costa Rica, I moved to Tampa to live with my mother and stepfather. It was a pretty stressful living situation for a while, but it improved significantly over time and my family was a great source of support. When Hercules was 21 months old, I moved to Sarasota and enrolled in college again at New College of Florida, in order to finally finish my degree. During our first year in Sarasota, Hercules and I lived alone in a 1-br duplex. He was also in preschool for the first time, since my mom had cared for him while I lived and worked in Tampa. His first provider was in a home care setting, and it went pretty well at first, but after about 8 months she requested that I find another arrangement for Hercules. He was demanding too much of her energy, and she had more infants in her care then than she did previously.

At the end of my first year at NCF, my boyfriend and I decided to move in together. We were planning to finish the construction of a trimaran sailboat, a boat that would be our home upon completion. We moved into a garage apartment on a local horse farm, so that we could house the hulls in the adjacent RV garage. During that year, Hercules attended a nearby preschool. That was a tough year for us. I was in my thesis year at NCF, my relationship with The Boyfriend was strained, and Hercules was in trouble of some kind almost daily at his new school. He turned 3 that November, but they were complaining that Hercules wasn't potty trained (and not for a lack of trying, I might add). I felt this was a little ridiculous, seeing as that Hercules (due to the timing of his birthday) was in the 2 year old class. But they threatened to hold him back the following year if he couldn't use the potty consistently.

Meanwhile, Hercules also factored into my relationship struggles. All other issues aside (and there were plenty), The Boyfriend seemed to think that a 3 year old boy ought to know enough to clean up his toys as soon as he finished playing with them. Without being told. All the time. This is just one example of his unrealistic expectations. He also seemed to expect Hercules to be the same sort of passive, submissive, obedient, angelic child that he (and I) had been when we were very young. Well, wishful thinking. But guess what, Hercules is his own person and no amount of discipline is going to turn him into something he's not.

That spring, it all hit the fan. Our landlady sold the property, and we were given one month to find a new home and new place to house our (still untouched) bare-hull sailboat. One night, while we were considering all our options, The Boyfriend vehemently announced "There's no way I can live on a boat with him making all that noise!" Meaning Hercules, of course. That helped me make up my mind. I left him, bought my own boat and Rio and I moved aboard a 27-foot sailboat moored on Sarasota Bay. I was 2 months shy of completing my thesis and graduating from college. It was incredibly stressful, and also the best move I made during my entire stay in Florida.

For the next 6 months Hercules and I lived a rather idyllic life on the water, but that's another story:) By winter, I was still desperately unemployed and facing a depressingly hostile job market. So I made the difficult decision to move back to Tampa with my mom and sell my boat. Luckily, I found work there and Hercules was placed in another daycare in Tampa. At first, it seemed like a blessing to have him out of the previous one, where they wanted to corral him with 2 year olds indefinitely, even though he was clearly bigger, stronger, smarter and more developed than the kids his age. However, things at the new preschool didn't turn out so great either. His teacher had a lot of bad habits that I won't get into here. Luckily, I wasn't planning to stay in Tampa much longer, so we endured it for a short while.

Finally, I relocated to my current location, and we've been here since August of 2003. But an awful lot has happened in the couple of years or so. First of all, I fell in love and married a man with 7 children, five of whom stay with us on weekends. So Hercules is no longer an only child. He has adjusted much more easily to his new siblings than he has to my husband (I'll call him Pa), primarily because Pa moved in with us first. Hercules was used to having me all to himself, so there was some real jealousy and competition for my attention. We were sensitive to that from the start and we've made a lot of progress. Just the other night at the dinner table, Hercules asked us why he didn't call Pa "Dad." Basically, it's his choice and we'll see if he takes up that habit.

Meanwhile, Hercules was in preschool again, this time in a Head Start program. Once again, I started getting daily reports regarding his behavior problems - defiance, pushing and hitting other children, and being generally disruptive. I communicated with his teachers regularly, and they were really very patient and accommodating. They were concerned that if Hercules didn't learn to curb his impulsiveness, he would have a very difficult time in Kindergarten. They asked me for ideas as to how to deal with him. I was hoping they could give me some ideas, because I was pretty desperate myself.

In Kindergarten all of our worst fears came true. He was in trouble almost every day for one thing or another. I had conferences with his teacher, the principal, and the school counselor. His principal wanted to have him assessed for ADHD. Instead, we started seeing a behavioral counselor here in town and that has helped tremendously. Nonetheless, the principal at his Kindergarten was not appeased. She was the one pushing the ADHD agenda, telling me all about the miracles of kiddie drugs and so forth. This was the local Expressive Arts school, where I applied for permission for Hercules to attend, hoping that he would be captivated by that sort of thing (given his inborn desire to perform and make music). But because he was at that school on special permission, the principal would often remind me that they were not required to take on the rejects from other schools. Eventually, they did kick him out and forced him to attend his disctrict school and, despite all of my fears, it turned out to be a blessing.

Although Herc's new teachers were immensely supportive and accommodating, one thing didn't change - Hercules still had impulse control and anger management issues, and the result was that other kids were getting hurt and he was endangering himself on a regular basis. We signed him up for behavior counseling and Tae Kwon Do, and again he made some progress, but the core issues weren't going away. Finally, I made the decision to have him diagnosed and, in the end, put him on meds. This opened up a whole new world for both of us. He is now excelling in school and boasting of his accomplishments, while I have found a whole new joy in parenting that I thought I would never truly know.

Which means that lately I have more energy to focus on other pursuits and interests. This has resulted in a lot of self-reflection, while I try to reconcile my reality with my idealism. I'd like to call myself a radical mama, but I'm really not sure I've earned the right to wear that badge. Of course, I'm my own worse critic and radical is definitely a relative term. Part of the problem is that I tend to get overwhelmed by parenting and step-parenting, and the isolation that comes with that package. I'm very fortunate to have a true partner in my husband, who has never assumed that cooking, cleaning, or childcare are my primary responsibility.

It's only fair to admit that I'm an introvert by nature. Which isn't to say that I'm antisocial, but I am shy and I absolutely cherish my time alone. I think this has a lot to do with my ambition to be a writer, and why parenting has been so difficult for me. I've just begun to realize what Virginia Woolf was talking about in "A Room of One's Own." All I've ever really wanted to do is write, but finding the space to make that possible has largely eluded me. This blog appeases that craving somewhat, but it is a poor substitute. It doesn't suit my style. I prefer to dig deep and take lots of twists and turns and then revise, revise, revise. I want to write novels, not blurbs. Someday. Meanwhile, perhaps we can learn to relate to one another here in cyberspace and make the world around us more liveable. I can only hope.

* Greetings

I started this blog during my son's first year in Kindergarten, when I was getting phonecalls from the principal every week or more. That was the fall of 2003. Back then, I was resisting anyone's attempts to label my son with so-called behavior disorders, and especially their attempts to push their drugs on him.

My, how things change.

We've come full circle now and it's been an agonizing journey, but I feel good about where we are now. Hercules has recently been diagnosed with ADHD and is taking Concerta. Although I was adamantly against all this in the beginning, I've had to eat a lot of crow since then. But if I could go back and start over, I wouldn't do anything differently. The reason that I'm comfortable with my decision is that I arrived at this decision on my own terms, not because I caved in to pressure from doctors or school administrators. I still don't think medication should ever be a first solution, but a last resort. I'm glad that Hercules spent a year in counseling and martial arts. He has benefitted tremendously from both of those interventions, and he continues to do so now. We may phase him out of counseling this year, but we plan to keep him in Tae Kwon Do for as long as possible. I highly recommend martial arts for any child, girl or boy, of any behavior tendencies.

I still lean heavily towards homeopathy and alternative medicine, and I definitely hope to eventually wean Hercules off his meds and possibly use biofeedback to teach him how to control his impulses. But right now he needs to experience what "normal" looks like, and to have an opportunity to taste success. He's getting that opportunity now, for the first time in his life. I never thought I would know what it feels like to see my son receive praise in school. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. I'm like that, though.

Now that I'm not overwhelmed by the daily stress of raising an out-of-control herculean warrior punk rock pirate elf boy, I'm trying to focus my efforts and thoughts in other areas of great importance to me. Raising a child in today's world is not for the faint of heart, and motherhood has been a rude awakening for me in several respects. Some of the topics I hope to find time to reflect on are:

The challenges of raising a boy child as a feminist mother.
Being the only white family in a low-income neighborhood.
Seeking a community of like-minded folks while struggling to overcome the isolation of parenting.
Step-parenting
Religion and politics - Because I'm a liberal with a fundamentalist Christian upbringing.

I hope you'll stick around and join me on my journey of personal growth and reflection.

Walk in beauty,
Renee

Updated March 2006